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Indiana Nursing Homes Legally Protected Amid Soaring Medicare Death Rates

A Department of Health and Human Services study found death among Medicare patients in nursing homes increased 32% in 2020.   

The study uses Medicare billing data and is the first to report on nursing home residents diagnosed with COVID-19 or likely COVID-19 before May 8, 2020. The HHS inspector general found two major spikes in patient death. Over 80,000 patients died in April 2020, and almost 75,000 died in December.

However, Indiana’s controversial nursing home law passed in April 2021 specifically protects long-term care facilities where there is not gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.   

“The new law applies retroactively to March 2020, and it provides protection for claims ‘arising from’ COVID-19,” said Jody Madeira, a medical law professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. 

She said a policy like this may have been necessary in earlier months like April, but there was an abundance of Personal Protective Equipment, tests, and scientific research by December.  

Madeira said another problem during COVID-19 is staffing. Indiana receives more nursing home Medicare funds than most other states yet ranks 48th in total nursing staff hours before the pandemic.  

“As I see it, Indiana nursing homes didn’t prioritize staffing before COVID-19,” she said. “And then they sort of used COVID-19 afterwards as an incentive for the legislature.”

Madeira said the law is problematic because it attempts to retroactively solve a pre-existing condition that directly impacts the care patients receive.   

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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